Spinal Deformation in The Witcher

A couple of years ago my husband got very into The Witcher video game, books, and the card game Gwent. Eventually, he convinced me to play The Witcher video game with him, which I enjoyed very much even if all of the different monsters and provinces started to blur. So when Netflix spent millions on a TV series starring Henry Cavill, of course my husband was incredibly excited, and we watched it all in one weekend during our winter vacation.

The show is an adaptation of the first book, which predates the action in the game by quite a bit. It’s an origin story of sorts for several of the main characters and describes how they are connected with each other, including the Socercess Yennefer (pictured below). If you haven’t watched it and want to avoid all spoilers, save this until you watch it and stop reading now.

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Fear Can Make Us Small

Fear can make us small. It can make us paranoid, nervous, suspicious, unfriendly, close-minded and all these things that I don’t want to be. My anxiety and OCD means that I get scared a lot. Ordinary things that don’t scare other people scare me. Some days I’m more scared than others. Some days I have to really psych myself up to go outside or get in the car or even video chat someone for the first time.

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My Experiences with Telehealth

When all the cancellations started, at first I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my appointments. Some of them were just canceled outright and for others, I had the option to meet via phone or zoom. Luckily, I have health insurance that covered them like a normal appointment so it was an option for me.

There are limits: I decided not to get blood work done yet because I didn’t want to go to a medical facility and risk exposure. That meant that my provider and I could only discuss and plan so much. Others worked better, in particular my psychiatrist and therapist appointments. I was able to make the hard decision to increase my medication after a steady ramp down over about a year.

With everything going on my anxiety has been on an upswing. I’ve struggled to sleep and focus. I’ve been obsessing about the little things again. I check the news too often. As a result, by talking with my psychiatrist and therapist I was able to decide to temporarily increase my medication.

This is a reminder that health, including mental health, has its ups and downs. Just because I was doing better a year ago or six months ago, doesn’t mean that I will be fine right now. If you’re worried about asking for extra help or help for the first time right now, don’t feel bad. You’re not the only one. This is incredibly stressful in so many ways and there are only so many things we can do or have control over. And that’s hard. Feeling helpless during a time when so many are hurting is hard.

I find that it is especially difficult to do nothing when I am anxious, even if that is the best thing I can do. I have trouble letting things go. I want to act even when I know it’s better not to do anything at all or to wait to do something. I want to send that difficult email immediately, I want to call that friend, I want to do something to relieve the anxiety I feel but sometimes it’s better for everyone else if I wait, think about it, and make a measured response that is best for everyone. And of course, right now, the best thing most of us can do is nothing, is to wait, is to stay home.

I need therapy now more than ever. A lot of us do because we don’t know when this will be “over.” No one does. And we need help dealing with that kind of uncertainty. Anxiety is all about uncertainty. Working through anxiety means sitting with it sometimes. We need help working through anxiety when things are hardest, like now.

I just finished reading Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. I learned a lot by reading it but I was thrown when she describes teletherapy as “therapy with a condom.” The implication is that condoms block connection and sensation, so sex, and in this case, therapy is not as good with them. However, I think many people would agree that that is not a reason to not use them, especially if they are your only option!

I personally believe that this is not a reason not to use telehealth, especially now. It’s also not a reason not to use telehealth ever if you’re disabled or don’t have access to mental health treatment in your area. In fact, it’s a reason to encourage full access to online mental health treatment and prevent barriers to such access like variations in state licensing or insurance rules. Hopefully, some of the easing of restrictions happening right now will persist after the worst of the pandemic is over. It would be a silver lining to the pandemic. Hope like that helps me manage my anxiety just a little bit better.

What the world is like when everyone, and not just me, starts washing their hands obsessively

“Everyone is gross, so much grosser than I feared,” I think (maybe not entirely fairly) as a woman who has had OCD for twenty years and now realizes that everyone needs a pandemic and CDC warnings to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, use hand sanitizer, and generally not track germs around.

I have spent years in therapy and taken drugs to try to reduce my need to wash my hands frequently. And now, everyone in the world is trying to learn how to be more like me. The cognitive dissonance is extreme. I’m not crazy anymore (at least for my germophobia and need to be clean), at least for now.

I’m not the only one carrying little bottles of hand sanitizer around or taking a pump of sanitizer after dropping of recycling or trash in the trash room of my apartment building. My husband doesn’t balk when I ask him to wash his hands after going outside, after taking off his shoes, before eating, and after a host of other practices. He doesn’t ask me to tolerate germs and dirt anymore. Exposure therapy is not relevant or even encouraged right now.

In fact, I see articles about lotions for extra dry hands that are a result of all that washing. Y’all, I’ve been testing out lotions for my hands for decades. My mom had to use baby oil when I was an adolescent to stop my hands from bleeding. By now, I know that I can’t skip lotion for a single night or my hands will crack. I get eczema if I let things go too far.

A few weeks ago, I didn’t really worry when there was a run on hand sanitizer. I had hand sanitizer. I’m never without it. I’m the person who brings it everywhere, including restaurants and offers it to everyone. I can tell you that now when I do that no one turns me down (And until we started social distancing, I was still sharing).

I use hand sanitizer after I use a public restroom because often there aren’t any paper towels or the trash can is far away from the restroom’s door. I do not understand the point of washing your hands if you’re just going to open the bathroom door with bare hands. I try not to think about the people who do or, worse, open the bathroom door after NOT washing their hands.

I wonder if restaurants and other public places will start putting the trash can next to the door. I can only hope that will be a positive outcome of all this.

I don’t understand how someone could go out without sanitizer. What if you touch a button for the elevator, hold the pole on the subway, or open a door? How can you then eat the free bread? It’s these kinds of questions that usually make me stand out from others but now many people are asking things like how long does a virus live on cardboard or can you get exposed to the virus through deliveries?

And you can be sure that we have plenty of Lysol wipes. I buy them in bulk from Costco and use them to clean my phone and wallet after I go out and about all day. My husband checked that we had plenty of wipes when all this started happening but I was not worried. I knew we had plenty. We also had plenty of paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper. I didn’t have to panic buy or buy in bulk because I already had everything.

In fact, in many ways, OCD has prepared me for a pandemic. Of course, I still overthink things (called rumination) and obsessively read and research the pandemic and keep abreast of all updates constantly (if I don’t work hard to cut myself of just like I did with WebMD years ago—nothing against WebMD but a person can know too much about all the potentially dangerous diseases and seemingly innocuous symptoms out there).

For the first time, my dad listened when I told him to use hand sanitizer and wipes on his recent flight home. He told me everyone was doing it. Suddenly (if I was still flying at this time), I wouldn’t stand out as the clean freak.

However, I still have to tolerate a certain level of exposure to germs, viruses, and bacteria. One thing I have learned even in my most severe bouts of OCD is that there is only so much one can do. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try (unless it becomes pathological such as with OCD) but there is no way we can protect against it all. And like the rest of this situation, that level of uncertainty is something we have to accept and sit with, whether we have OCD or not, and then hope for the best.

 

 

 

 

How I Balance Advocating For Myself as a Patient with Avoiding Hypochondria

(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and none of this is meant to provide medical advice. This is just my personal experience.)

I struggle with being my own patient advocate and not being a hypochondriac. I know that having OCD means that I have a tendency to catastrophize and this includes imagining worst-case possible illnesses or medical situations. I know when I’m at my most mentally ill that I can see an aneurysm instead of a migraine or some other catastrophic illness in a simple flu or cold.

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